What is a boomerang employee?

Squadsy Team
September 26, 2023

What is a boomerang employee?

Explore the rise of boomerang employees, who leave but later return to their former workplaces, bringing unique value and fresh perspectives.

Have you ever watched a boomerang soar through the air, only to return to the very hand that threw it? In the corporate realm, a similar phenomenon is taking flight. Enter the "boomerang employee" – individuals who, after leaving an organization, find themselves gravitating back to their former professional home. This isn't mere nostalgia or a step back; it's a reflection of an evolving workplace dynamic. 

More and more, companies are witnessing the return of these once-departed talents, embracing them with open arms and renewed contracts. This trend, while intriguing, prompts several questions: Why are these professionals returning? And what does this mean for businesses and their talent management strategies?

Let's delve into the world of boomerang employees and uncover the forces pulling them back.

So Who Exactly Are Boomerang Employees?

A "boomerang employee" is an individual who, after voluntarily leaving an organization, later returns to work for the same company. This reentry can be in a similar role, a new position, or even at a higher rank, depending on the circumstances of their departure and the experiences they've garnered in the interim. 

Unlike regular employees, who maintain continuous tenure, or new hires, who are venturing into the company's ecosystem for the first time, boomerang employees bring a unique blend: familiarity with the organization's culture and fresh perspectives from their time away. This dual experience sets them apart, making their return noteworthy.

The Rise of the Boomerang Employee

Historically, the traditional career trajectory was linear. Employees would join a company, climb its ranks, and often retire under the same corporate banner they started with. Departing from a company, especially voluntarily, was seen as a definitive end to that professional chapter. However, as the corporate landscape evolved, so did career paths. The late 20th century saw a shift towards valuing diverse experiences, leading many to explore opportunities beyond their initial employers.

The Present Scenario

Fast forward to today, and the dynamics have further transformed. The modern workplace, characterized by its fluidity and emphasis on skill development, has made the concept of 'job hopping' less taboo. As professionals seek diverse experiences to enrich their portfolios, they often find that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Coupled with organizations recognizing the value of rehiring proven talent, the stage was set for the rise of boomerang employees.

The Digital Push

Moreover, with the advent of professional networking platforms like LinkedIn, staying connected with former employers and colleagues has become easier than ever. This digital connectivity, combined with the evolving perceptions of career trajectories, has cemented the boomerang trend as a significant facet of today's employment landscape.

Benefits of Hiring Boomerang Employees

When an employee returns to a former workplace, it's not just a reunion; it's an infusion of value for the organization. Here's why hiring boomerang employees can be a strategic move:

1. Familiar Grounds

One of the standout benefits is their inherent familiarity with the company's culture and processes. They don't need a map to navigate the office politics or the company's software systems. They've been there, done that, and can integrate seamlessly.

2. Swift Onboarding

Time is money, and with boomerang employees, companies can save both. Given their prior experience with the organization, the training curve is significantly shortened. They require less hand-holding, allowing them to dive into their roles much faster than a fresh recruit.

3. Loyalty Reinforced

Contrary to what some might think, boomerang employees often demonstrate heightened loyalty. Having experienced work cultures elsewhere, their decision to return is a testament to their appreciation and commitment to their former employer. This return can also boost morale among current employees, showcasing the organization as a desirable place to work.

4. A Blend of Old and New

While they bring with them the comfort of familiarity, boomerang employees aren't stuck in the past. Their time away has equipped them with new skills, fresh perspectives, and innovative approaches. This blend of the old and new can invigorate teams, introduce best practices from other organizations, and drive innovation.

Potential Challenges and Cons of Hiring Boomerang Employees

While the return of a familiar face to the workplace can be a cause for celebration, it's essential to approach the rehiring of boomerang employees with a balanced perspective. Here are some potential challenges and concerns associated with this trend:

1. Loyalty in Question

One of the primary concerns is the uncertainty surrounding their loyalty and commitment. If they left once, what's stopping them from leaving again? While their return indicates a renewed interest in the organization, there's always the underlying question: Will they stay for the long haul this time?

2. Interpersonal Dynamics

The reentry of a boomerang employee might not always be smooth sailing, especially concerning interpersonal relationships. Current employees might harbor reservations or even resentment, particularly if the returning employee is stepping into a higher role or if their departure had previously caused disruptions.

3. History Repeating Itself

There's the undeniable risk of past mistakes or issues resurfacing. If the employee had challenges or conflicts during their previous tenure, there's no guarantee those won't crop up again. It's crucial for HR and management to evaluate the reasons behind their initial departure and ensure that those circumstances have been addressed.

Best Practices for Rehiring Boomerang Employees

The decision to welcome back a former employee can be a strategic one, but it's essential to have a structured approach to ensure success. Here are some best practices to consider when rehiring boomerang employees:

1. Leverage HR Technology

Modern HR tools offer a plethora of features that can be invaluable in this context. Use HR technology to maintain a database of former employees, track their career progressions, and stay connected. Platforms that facilitate alumni networks can be particularly useful, allowing for easy reconnection when the time is right.

2. Smooth Transitions

Re-entry shouldn't feel like a jolt, either for the returning employee or the existing team. Ensure there's a structured onboarding process, even if it's abbreviated, to reintroduce the employee to the company's current state. Address any past issues or concerns upfront to clear the air.

3. Understand Their Departure

Before rolling out the welcome mat, delve into the reasons behind their initial exit. Was it a personal reason, a better opportunity, or perhaps an organizational conflict? Ensure that if it was an issue within the company's control, it has since been addressed or resolved.

4. Maintain Recruitment Standards

While it's tempting to fast-track a familiar face, it's crucial to treat boomerang employees with the same rigor as new hires. They should undergo the standard interview process, evaluations, and any other protocols in place. This ensures fairness and consistency in hiring decisions.

Incorporating these practices can help organizations maximize the benefits of rehiring former employees while minimizing potential pitfalls, leading to a harmonious and productive workplace.

Exploring a case study

In a 2021 research study led by Keller, the spotlight was on over 2,000 employees who decided to return to a US healthcare organization they had previously departed from. What's intriguing is that the findings unveiled a remarkable trend: these boomerang employees, upon their return, displayed a consistent track record of outperforming their externally hired counterparts, and this phenomenon was particularly pronounced during the initial two years post-rehiring. 

The secret to their success lay in their ability to seamlessly "hit the ground running," owing to their prior immersion in the organization's culture, alignment with its values, and established relationships within the company. This not only underscored the value of boomerang employees but also shed light on the benefits of rehiring individuals intimately acquainted with the organizational landscape.

The Final Takeaway

The resurgence of boomerang employees represents a strategic shift in the contemporary workplace. Boomerangs, those who return to former employers, offer a unique blend of familiarity and fresh perspectives, reducing training times, and reinforcing loyalty. However, challenges such as loyalty concerns and interpersonal dynamics exist.

To navigate this trend successfully, companies can leverage HR technology, address past issues, and treat boomerangs fairly in recruitment. Embracing the potential of boomerang employees in this evolving business landscape can be a strategic advantage, enriching talent strategies. With the right approach, they can catalyze new opportunities and growth in your workplace, forging a dynamic and rewarding professional journey.

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